The Return of the Dandy



Dandy 2Nicola here. According to the newspapers there is a new breed of man
about town (whether that town is somewhere in Europe, the USA or Australasia.)
He is the dandy, discerning and well informed on fashionable style trends,
historical influences and the art of dressing. These men are devoted to matters
sartorial and they spend a lot of money on their clothes, several thousand pounds or dollars per
month. Selfridges in London has recently opened the world’s largest men’s shoe
department. Harvey Nichols, the designer department store, say that their male
customers spend 25% more on clothes than their female ones. Style icons like
David Beckham have made it acceptable for men to express themselves through
their style and their grooming. For these men, dress is a form of
self-expression, often as flamboyant as possible. And of course this is nothing
new.

Origins and definitions

My OED has the word “dandy” first coming into use in the
1780s to describe a man
David Beckham who paid meticulous attention to his dress. It was
based on the earlier phrase “Jack ‘O Dandy.” Dandyism as a style was coined in
about 1820. Previously there had been fops, a term which originated in the 15th
century and implied someone who was a bit of a fool as well as being overdressed. The word “beau” also came
to be used to describe a rich, fashionable young man who was elegant in his
dress. Then there were the macaronis who took style to extremes and were
considered to exceed what was elegant and fashionable and tumble over into the
outlandish.

These days the term dandy has a certain effeminate
connotation but in the late 18th and 19th centuries it
had a far more masculine meaning. The dandy was not simply someone who was
interested in clothes. Dandyism was a lifestyle. It included refinement in
manners, a certain nonchalance and possibly an interest in gentlemanly pursuits
such as prize fighting. The dandy was urbane and elegant but he was also very
masculine. One of the dandies of the late 18th century was William Hopper, a
man who rejected a career in the church to become a gentleman pugilist. He was
known as “The Swell Bristolian,” swell of course being Regency cant for someone
who was wealthy and elegant. Captain Barclay, another dandy, was one of the
most celebrated athletes of his generation.

The King of the Dandies

DandiesThe quintessential dandy, of course, was Beau Brummell. He
became a leader of society. Brummell attended Eton, where he first drew
attention to himself by going against the wisdom of the day in declaring
cricket “foolish.” This view was sufficiently odd and original to establish him
as a wit and he was invited to all the best parties. Brummell was also an
arbiter of taste and fashion in books and furnishings as well as clothes. He
was a collector of china, snuffboxes and canes. His exquisite manners were part
of his appeal and when it came to clothes he designed them himself and made
sure they were well cut. Two of his maxims were “no one should ever take your
suit for new” and “always clean linen and plenty of it.”

Dandyism as practised by Brummell and his fellows was as
much to do with manner as dress. One of the observations made of Brummell was
that he matched the understated elegance of his clothes with the cool
understatement of his speech. He never showed emotion.

Despite the masculine connotations of dandyism, not everyone
admired it. One observer described the dandies in St James in less than
flattering terms: “Well-groomed but pompous, parading daily between Crockford’s
(gambling palace) and White’s Club, up one side and down the other.” This
promenade often took place in order to establish one’s status as a gentleman
and persuade tradesmen to grant credit.

There were also many caricatures of the dandy as a
ridiculous character in the contemporary cartoons. A satirical booklet of the
era mocked the many and varied ways in which one could tie a neck cloth whilst
“An Exquisite’s Diary” made fun of the trials and tribulations of being a
Dandy. Captain Gronow was vitriolic about them, criticising them as
“unspeakably odious… with nothing remarkable about them but their insolence…
They hated everybody and abused everybody…”

Literary Dandies

One of the most famous literary dandies is of course The
Scarlet Pimpernel. No one could be cooler
Scarlet Pimpernel under pressure, busy adjusting the
set of his coat at the same time as fighting off an attack by twenty
Frenchmen. The Scarlet Pimpernel is the ultimate swashbuckling hero and his
dandyism is an integral part of his disguise but at the same time he genuinely
does care about his appearance. And of course his wit and sangfroid is
legendary. There are also a number of dandies in Georgette Heyer’s books too; interestingly some are the true dandies such as The Earl of Worth in
Regency Buck who is a member of Beau Brummell’s set. Others take their
fashions to extremes and are figures of fun.

Ryan goslingAt the end of the Victorian era dandyism experienced a
resurgence in popularity with adherents such as Oscar Wilde. The current trend
seems to be mainly focussed on clothing; it would be good to see other aspects
of dandyism such as wit and especially beautiful manners making a comeback too!

Do you have a favourite historical or a fictional dandy? Or
is there a current day style icon you think is a dandy?

85 thoughts on “The Return of the Dandy”

  1. I adore books with dandies and otherwise exquisitely dressed heroes. This is one reason I love Georgian-set books, since the heroes tend to be so wonderfully dressed.
    The Amorous Education of Celia Seaton by Miranda Neville is one book with a dandy hero I read pretty recently that I liked.

    Reply
  2. I adore books with dandies and otherwise exquisitely dressed heroes. This is one reason I love Georgian-set books, since the heroes tend to be so wonderfully dressed.
    The Amorous Education of Celia Seaton by Miranda Neville is one book with a dandy hero I read pretty recently that I liked.

    Reply
  3. I adore books with dandies and otherwise exquisitely dressed heroes. This is one reason I love Georgian-set books, since the heroes tend to be so wonderfully dressed.
    The Amorous Education of Celia Seaton by Miranda Neville is one book with a dandy hero I read pretty recently that I liked.

    Reply
  4. I adore books with dandies and otherwise exquisitely dressed heroes. This is one reason I love Georgian-set books, since the heroes tend to be so wonderfully dressed.
    The Amorous Education of Celia Seaton by Miranda Neville is one book with a dandy hero I read pretty recently that I liked.

    Reply
  5. I adore books with dandies and otherwise exquisitely dressed heroes. This is one reason I love Georgian-set books, since the heroes tend to be so wonderfully dressed.
    The Amorous Education of Celia Seaton by Miranda Neville is one book with a dandy hero I read pretty recently that I liked.

    Reply
  6. Zoro was my first dandy. The Scarlet Pimpernel was my second. I then read Georgette Heyer, and enjoyed her men with a sense of style and wit. In the 80s when he was playing Remington Steele, Pierce Brosnan did an interview where he talked about the dress and style of his character. It was practically an infomercial for the designers, but was dandyism in character.

    Reply
  7. Zoro was my first dandy. The Scarlet Pimpernel was my second. I then read Georgette Heyer, and enjoyed her men with a sense of style and wit. In the 80s when he was playing Remington Steele, Pierce Brosnan did an interview where he talked about the dress and style of his character. It was practically an infomercial for the designers, but was dandyism in character.

    Reply
  8. Zoro was my first dandy. The Scarlet Pimpernel was my second. I then read Georgette Heyer, and enjoyed her men with a sense of style and wit. In the 80s when he was playing Remington Steele, Pierce Brosnan did an interview where he talked about the dress and style of his character. It was practically an infomercial for the designers, but was dandyism in character.

    Reply
  9. Zoro was my first dandy. The Scarlet Pimpernel was my second. I then read Georgette Heyer, and enjoyed her men with a sense of style and wit. In the 80s when he was playing Remington Steele, Pierce Brosnan did an interview where he talked about the dress and style of his character. It was practically an infomercial for the designers, but was dandyism in character.

    Reply
  10. Zoro was my first dandy. The Scarlet Pimpernel was my second. I then read Georgette Heyer, and enjoyed her men with a sense of style and wit. In the 80s when he was playing Remington Steele, Pierce Brosnan did an interview where he talked about the dress and style of his character. It was practically an infomercial for the designers, but was dandyism in character.

    Reply
  11. Good point, Margaret. It doesn’t work for me but I know that some people think tattoos add to a sense of style. In the Regency it would have been unusual; I blogged about tattoos a couple of years ago, I think. Tattooing emerged from a naval tradition but became fashionable at the end of the 19th century. That said, a couple of Wenches have given their intrepid and unusual heroines tattoos…

    Reply
  12. Good point, Margaret. It doesn’t work for me but I know that some people think tattoos add to a sense of style. In the Regency it would have been unusual; I blogged about tattoos a couple of years ago, I think. Tattooing emerged from a naval tradition but became fashionable at the end of the 19th century. That said, a couple of Wenches have given their intrepid and unusual heroines tattoos…

    Reply
  13. Good point, Margaret. It doesn’t work for me but I know that some people think tattoos add to a sense of style. In the Regency it would have been unusual; I blogged about tattoos a couple of years ago, I think. Tattooing emerged from a naval tradition but became fashionable at the end of the 19th century. That said, a couple of Wenches have given their intrepid and unusual heroines tattoos…

    Reply
  14. Good point, Margaret. It doesn’t work for me but I know that some people think tattoos add to a sense of style. In the Regency it would have been unusual; I blogged about tattoos a couple of years ago, I think. Tattooing emerged from a naval tradition but became fashionable at the end of the 19th century. That said, a couple of Wenches have given their intrepid and unusual heroines tattoos…

    Reply
  15. Good point, Margaret. It doesn’t work for me but I know that some people think tattoos add to a sense of style. In the Regency it would have been unusual; I blogged about tattoos a couple of years ago, I think. Tattooing emerged from a naval tradition but became fashionable at the end of the 19th century. That said, a couple of Wenches have given their intrepid and unusual heroines tattoos…

    Reply
  16. Thank you for the recommendation of Miranda Neville’s book, Margot. That sounds great! Of the older Regencies, the Beau and the bluestocking by Alice Chetwynd Ley was a favourite of mine. He was a dandy although as it was a Georgian book the word hadn’t been coined.

    Reply
  17. Thank you for the recommendation of Miranda Neville’s book, Margot. That sounds great! Of the older Regencies, the Beau and the bluestocking by Alice Chetwynd Ley was a favourite of mine. He was a dandy although as it was a Georgian book the word hadn’t been coined.

    Reply
  18. Thank you for the recommendation of Miranda Neville’s book, Margot. That sounds great! Of the older Regencies, the Beau and the bluestocking by Alice Chetwynd Ley was a favourite of mine. He was a dandy although as it was a Georgian book the word hadn’t been coined.

    Reply
  19. Thank you for the recommendation of Miranda Neville’s book, Margot. That sounds great! Of the older Regencies, the Beau and the bluestocking by Alice Chetwynd Ley was a favourite of mine. He was a dandy although as it was a Georgian book the word hadn’t been coined.

    Reply
  20. Thank you for the recommendation of Miranda Neville’s book, Margot. That sounds great! Of the older Regencies, the Beau and the bluestocking by Alice Chetwynd Ley was a favourite of mine. He was a dandy although as it was a Georgian book the word hadn’t been coined.

    Reply
  21. Zorro! Of course! Yes, another fabulous swashbuckling dandy. Thank you, Janilee. I remember Remington Steele and how elegant and stylish Pierce Brosnan was. Interesting that all these fictional dandies are very masculine beneath the stylish clothes.

    Reply
  22. Zorro! Of course! Yes, another fabulous swashbuckling dandy. Thank you, Janilee. I remember Remington Steele and how elegant and stylish Pierce Brosnan was. Interesting that all these fictional dandies are very masculine beneath the stylish clothes.

    Reply
  23. Zorro! Of course! Yes, another fabulous swashbuckling dandy. Thank you, Janilee. I remember Remington Steele and how elegant and stylish Pierce Brosnan was. Interesting that all these fictional dandies are very masculine beneath the stylish clothes.

    Reply
  24. Zorro! Of course! Yes, another fabulous swashbuckling dandy. Thank you, Janilee. I remember Remington Steele and how elegant and stylish Pierce Brosnan was. Interesting that all these fictional dandies are very masculine beneath the stylish clothes.

    Reply
  25. Zorro! Of course! Yes, another fabulous swashbuckling dandy. Thank you, Janilee. I remember Remington Steele and how elegant and stylish Pierce Brosnan was. Interesting that all these fictional dandies are very masculine beneath the stylish clothes.

    Reply
  26. As for elegance and wit I can see Cary Grant being a favored Dandy had he lived in that time. 🙂
    Great post.
    Carol L
    Lucky4750 (at) aol (dot) com

    Reply
  27. As for elegance and wit I can see Cary Grant being a favored Dandy had he lived in that time. 🙂
    Great post.
    Carol L
    Lucky4750 (at) aol (dot) com

    Reply
  28. As for elegance and wit I can see Cary Grant being a favored Dandy had he lived in that time. 🙂
    Great post.
    Carol L
    Lucky4750 (at) aol (dot) com

    Reply
  29. As for elegance and wit I can see Cary Grant being a favored Dandy had he lived in that time. 🙂
    Great post.
    Carol L
    Lucky4750 (at) aol (dot) com

    Reply
  30. As for elegance and wit I can see Cary Grant being a favored Dandy had he lived in that time. 🙂
    Great post.
    Carol L
    Lucky4750 (at) aol (dot) com

    Reply
  31. So far as I know, Cary Grant never made a Georgian/Regency London sort of film, but he did appear in 18th century dress in The Howards of Virginia, and in Napoleonic War era English Navy uniform in The Pride and the Passion. Yes, as we suspected – he was spectacular 🙂

    Reply
  32. So far as I know, Cary Grant never made a Georgian/Regency London sort of film, but he did appear in 18th century dress in The Howards of Virginia, and in Napoleonic War era English Navy uniform in The Pride and the Passion. Yes, as we suspected – he was spectacular 🙂

    Reply
  33. So far as I know, Cary Grant never made a Georgian/Regency London sort of film, but he did appear in 18th century dress in The Howards of Virginia, and in Napoleonic War era English Navy uniform in The Pride and the Passion. Yes, as we suspected – he was spectacular 🙂

    Reply
  34. So far as I know, Cary Grant never made a Georgian/Regency London sort of film, but he did appear in 18th century dress in The Howards of Virginia, and in Napoleonic War era English Navy uniform in The Pride and the Passion. Yes, as we suspected – he was spectacular 🙂

    Reply
  35. So far as I know, Cary Grant never made a Georgian/Regency London sort of film, but he did appear in 18th century dress in The Howards of Virginia, and in Napoleonic War era English Navy uniform in The Pride and the Passion. Yes, as we suspected – he was spectacular 🙂

    Reply
  36. Miranda Neville’s Tarquin is a wonderful dandy. Who couldn’t love Lord Worth, but ruthless comes to mind as well. There is also Freddy in the Cotillion. He is more of a beta hero, but I loved his character.
    I’m not at all fond of tatoos, and wish men would spend more time dressing these days.

    Reply
  37. Miranda Neville’s Tarquin is a wonderful dandy. Who couldn’t love Lord Worth, but ruthless comes to mind as well. There is also Freddy in the Cotillion. He is more of a beta hero, but I loved his character.
    I’m not at all fond of tatoos, and wish men would spend more time dressing these days.

    Reply
  38. Miranda Neville’s Tarquin is a wonderful dandy. Who couldn’t love Lord Worth, but ruthless comes to mind as well. There is also Freddy in the Cotillion. He is more of a beta hero, but I loved his character.
    I’m not at all fond of tatoos, and wish men would spend more time dressing these days.

    Reply
  39. Miranda Neville’s Tarquin is a wonderful dandy. Who couldn’t love Lord Worth, but ruthless comes to mind as well. There is also Freddy in the Cotillion. He is more of a beta hero, but I loved his character.
    I’m not at all fond of tatoos, and wish men would spend more time dressing these days.

    Reply
  40. Miranda Neville’s Tarquin is a wonderful dandy. Who couldn’t love Lord Worth, but ruthless comes to mind as well. There is also Freddy in the Cotillion. He is more of a beta hero, but I loved his character.
    I’m not at all fond of tatoos, and wish men would spend more time dressing these days.

    Reply
  41. Miranda’s Tarquin is a wonderful dandy hero. And I have to admit Cary Grant always looked good. Running from an airplane. Fighting with the Japanese. Falling into a fountain. He always looked stylish and elegant. Georgette Heyer’s dandies are favorites of mine as well.
    And how about Villiers in Eloisa James Desperate Duchesses series. Another clothes horse with panache and machismo to spare.

    Reply
  42. Miranda’s Tarquin is a wonderful dandy hero. And I have to admit Cary Grant always looked good. Running from an airplane. Fighting with the Japanese. Falling into a fountain. He always looked stylish and elegant. Georgette Heyer’s dandies are favorites of mine as well.
    And how about Villiers in Eloisa James Desperate Duchesses series. Another clothes horse with panache and machismo to spare.

    Reply
  43. Miranda’s Tarquin is a wonderful dandy hero. And I have to admit Cary Grant always looked good. Running from an airplane. Fighting with the Japanese. Falling into a fountain. He always looked stylish and elegant. Georgette Heyer’s dandies are favorites of mine as well.
    And how about Villiers in Eloisa James Desperate Duchesses series. Another clothes horse with panache and machismo to spare.

    Reply
  44. Miranda’s Tarquin is a wonderful dandy hero. And I have to admit Cary Grant always looked good. Running from an airplane. Fighting with the Japanese. Falling into a fountain. He always looked stylish and elegant. Georgette Heyer’s dandies are favorites of mine as well.
    And how about Villiers in Eloisa James Desperate Duchesses series. Another clothes horse with panache and machismo to spare.

    Reply
  45. Miranda’s Tarquin is a wonderful dandy hero. And I have to admit Cary Grant always looked good. Running from an airplane. Fighting with the Japanese. Falling into a fountain. He always looked stylish and elegant. Georgette Heyer’s dandies are favorites of mine as well.
    And how about Villiers in Eloisa James Desperate Duchesses series. Another clothes horse with panache and machismo to spare.

    Reply
  46. I absolutely agree with the Scarlet Pimpernel, Remington Steele and Cary Grant as my favorite dandies. And it occurs to me that it wasn’t just their sartorial style that makes these men special, but their intelligence, verve and wit. Ah… they just don’t make them like they used to! 😉

    Reply
  47. I absolutely agree with the Scarlet Pimpernel, Remington Steele and Cary Grant as my favorite dandies. And it occurs to me that it wasn’t just their sartorial style that makes these men special, but their intelligence, verve and wit. Ah… they just don’t make them like they used to! 😉

    Reply
  48. I absolutely agree with the Scarlet Pimpernel, Remington Steele and Cary Grant as my favorite dandies. And it occurs to me that it wasn’t just their sartorial style that makes these men special, but their intelligence, verve and wit. Ah… they just don’t make them like they used to! 😉

    Reply
  49. I absolutely agree with the Scarlet Pimpernel, Remington Steele and Cary Grant as my favorite dandies. And it occurs to me that it wasn’t just their sartorial style that makes these men special, but their intelligence, verve and wit. Ah… they just don’t make them like they used to! 😉

    Reply
  50. I absolutely agree with the Scarlet Pimpernel, Remington Steele and Cary Grant as my favorite dandies. And it occurs to me that it wasn’t just their sartorial style that makes these men special, but their intelligence, verve and wit. Ah… they just don’t make them like they used to! 😉

    Reply
  51. Louisa, your comment sent me scurrying to the bookshelf to re-read my Desperate Duchesses. Yes!
    Donna, I think you’re so right. It’s not just about the clothes. There’s a lot more to a dandy than that!

    Reply
  52. Louisa, your comment sent me scurrying to the bookshelf to re-read my Desperate Duchesses. Yes!
    Donna, I think you’re so right. It’s not just about the clothes. There’s a lot more to a dandy than that!

    Reply
  53. Louisa, your comment sent me scurrying to the bookshelf to re-read my Desperate Duchesses. Yes!
    Donna, I think you’re so right. It’s not just about the clothes. There’s a lot more to a dandy than that!

    Reply
  54. Louisa, your comment sent me scurrying to the bookshelf to re-read my Desperate Duchesses. Yes!
    Donna, I think you’re so right. It’s not just about the clothes. There’s a lot more to a dandy than that!

    Reply
  55. Louisa, your comment sent me scurrying to the bookshelf to re-read my Desperate Duchesses. Yes!
    Donna, I think you’re so right. It’s not just about the clothes. There’s a lot more to a dandy than that!

    Reply
  56. Totally agree about Cary Grant, who always seemed comfortable in both his skin and his clothes. Daniel Craig is a contemporary movie star who seems to care about presentation and dresses beautifully but is never fussy or self-absorbed about his clothes.
    As for fictional heroes, I do like Miranda Neville’s Tarquin but absolutely loved Loretta Chase’s Alastair Carsington in “Miss Wonderful”. His esthetic sense is appalled by the heroine’s messy clothing and hair. As per the back copy “The last thing she needs is a stunningly attractive, oversensitive, and overbright aristocrat reminding her she has a heart, not to mention a body he claims is so unstylishly clothed that undressing her is practically a civic duty.” I love when he is sick and Mirabel scolds him not to exert himself to be charming, and he replies that “I am not exerting myself. Wit and charm come naturally to me.” Sigh.

    Reply
  57. Totally agree about Cary Grant, who always seemed comfortable in both his skin and his clothes. Daniel Craig is a contemporary movie star who seems to care about presentation and dresses beautifully but is never fussy or self-absorbed about his clothes.
    As for fictional heroes, I do like Miranda Neville’s Tarquin but absolutely loved Loretta Chase’s Alastair Carsington in “Miss Wonderful”. His esthetic sense is appalled by the heroine’s messy clothing and hair. As per the back copy “The last thing she needs is a stunningly attractive, oversensitive, and overbright aristocrat reminding her she has a heart, not to mention a body he claims is so unstylishly clothed that undressing her is practically a civic duty.” I love when he is sick and Mirabel scolds him not to exert himself to be charming, and he replies that “I am not exerting myself. Wit and charm come naturally to me.” Sigh.

    Reply
  58. Totally agree about Cary Grant, who always seemed comfortable in both his skin and his clothes. Daniel Craig is a contemporary movie star who seems to care about presentation and dresses beautifully but is never fussy or self-absorbed about his clothes.
    As for fictional heroes, I do like Miranda Neville’s Tarquin but absolutely loved Loretta Chase’s Alastair Carsington in “Miss Wonderful”. His esthetic sense is appalled by the heroine’s messy clothing and hair. As per the back copy “The last thing she needs is a stunningly attractive, oversensitive, and overbright aristocrat reminding her she has a heart, not to mention a body he claims is so unstylishly clothed that undressing her is practically a civic duty.” I love when he is sick and Mirabel scolds him not to exert himself to be charming, and he replies that “I am not exerting myself. Wit and charm come naturally to me.” Sigh.

    Reply
  59. Totally agree about Cary Grant, who always seemed comfortable in both his skin and his clothes. Daniel Craig is a contemporary movie star who seems to care about presentation and dresses beautifully but is never fussy or self-absorbed about his clothes.
    As for fictional heroes, I do like Miranda Neville’s Tarquin but absolutely loved Loretta Chase’s Alastair Carsington in “Miss Wonderful”. His esthetic sense is appalled by the heroine’s messy clothing and hair. As per the back copy “The last thing she needs is a stunningly attractive, oversensitive, and overbright aristocrat reminding her she has a heart, not to mention a body he claims is so unstylishly clothed that undressing her is practically a civic duty.” I love when he is sick and Mirabel scolds him not to exert himself to be charming, and he replies that “I am not exerting myself. Wit and charm come naturally to me.” Sigh.

    Reply
  60. Totally agree about Cary Grant, who always seemed comfortable in both his skin and his clothes. Daniel Craig is a contemporary movie star who seems to care about presentation and dresses beautifully but is never fussy or self-absorbed about his clothes.
    As for fictional heroes, I do like Miranda Neville’s Tarquin but absolutely loved Loretta Chase’s Alastair Carsington in “Miss Wonderful”. His esthetic sense is appalled by the heroine’s messy clothing and hair. As per the back copy “The last thing she needs is a stunningly attractive, oversensitive, and overbright aristocrat reminding her she has a heart, not to mention a body he claims is so unstylishly clothed that undressing her is practically a civic duty.” I love when he is sick and Mirabel scolds him not to exert himself to be charming, and he replies that “I am not exerting myself. Wit and charm come naturally to me.” Sigh.

    Reply

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